On my recent trips to London and Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to review several pieces of Briggs and Riley luggage. I found them all superbly crafted and well-suited for the life of the commuter. The lifetime warranty on all bags includes repair coverage even for damage caused by an airline (but it does not include cosmetic damage). Each bag includes a unique serial number so it can be registered, eliminating the need to find original proof of purchase should the bag ever need repair.
Navigate Rolling Case ($369)
This was my trusty main carry-on for two trips already, and will likely be a regular companion going forward. It was clearly designed with modern tech-travelers in mind. Larger elastic loops hold not just pens, but also help manage charging cords and cables. A front fleece-lined pocket provides good temporary storage for an iPad, unless the front pocket is overstuffed as mine tend to be.
My favorite feature of this bag is its clever elastic corded handle that sits out of the way between its own airplane grade aluminum telescoping handle. If this is your only carry-on, and you want to place it securely atop a checked bag when retrieved, simply pull out this corded handle and flip it 90 degrees to easily secure this bag to any roller.
Pros: Great storage and a solid telescoping handle make it good, well-designed wheels and tall legs keep it clean, and fine manufacturing and materials mean it will last for a long time. The ability to securely mount it to a larger roller is icing on the cake.
Cons: Would like to see the PC slot more customizable so it can be reduced in size to more tightly hug today’s increasingly diminutive notebook computers. As it is, the case provides ample room for even the largest of computers, but I sometimes feel my Microsoft Surface tablet has a bit too much wiggle room (by contrast, I own a Samsonite bag that uses Velcro along the sides of the PC compartment so it can grow or shrink depending on the size of the PC it is carrying.
Final Verdict: This is a great primary carry-on for the modern traveler.
Medium Leather Backpack ($469)
This is one of the best backpacks I have ever used. It makes a backpack feel, and act, like a fine briefcase, with the advantage briefcases can’t offer: you can wear it rather than carry it. It’s very roomy for a medium backpack, though I still tend to get close to capacity (but that’s the nature of tech evaluation work). Several fleece-lined padded compartments protect more delicate items like iPhones and iPods. A large fleece pocket takes good care of iPads, even those without a case. Unlike many “iPad” pockets, this one is roomy enough to hold an iPad even in a case with a keyboard. RFID pockets protect valuable information from being pilfered from the likes of credit cards and passports. I find the top facing zippered pocket an ideal place to unload everything from my pockets before I enter security screening—and I do mean everything, from coins to wallets and cameras. A large center section could hold a ream of paper, but I used it for an Eagle Creek packing cube encased change of clothing; if the checked bags don’t arrive, I’m still able to make it for a day.
For the seasoned traveler, Briggs and Riley backpacks offer one essential feature that most backpack manufacturers completely neglect: the ability to fit it securely over the handles of a rolling back. This backpack sports a wide elastic strap that holds the backpack tightly to Briggs & Riley luggage, or any other dual handled luggage (nothing much fits securely on bags with a single telescoping handle). Unlike regular bags with thin straps, this one doesn’t permit flipping or turning so you will never find yourself repositioning a backpack that has fallen over the front of the roller bag causing that sometimes embarrassing, and always annoying, need to reposition your bags as you hurry from appointment to appointment.
Elastic compartments for other gear and kit; generous side pockets, including a mesh one for holding a bottle; and a lockable laptop section fill out the features.
Pros: Fine leather, great wearability and ample storage, as well as good security features make for an excellent backpack that works in the airplane cabin, on the day trip, or in the boardroom.
Cons: Pricey for most backpack buyers.
Final Verdict: An outstanding backpack. A bit pricey, but if you want the flexibility of a fine leather case that acts as carry-on and briefcase, it will cost. The price isn’t out of line with traditional briefcases in this class like those from Hartman or Mont Blanc.
Large Clamshell Backpack ($299)
This larger backpack offers nearly the same features as the Medium Leather Backpack, but in a larger size and with the durability and lightness of ballistic nylon. I carried this backpack around London for several days and found it light (at least to start with, before being loaded down with guide books from various churches and palaces).
In addition to the shared features of the Medium Backpack, the Large Clamshell is TSA compliant: its rear padded laptop section unzips so it can lie flat for x-ray inspection.
Pros: As a larger version of the Medium Backpack there is just more room, but the bag doesn’t feel overwhelming by any means, as do some “large” backpacks.
Cons: A little more depth to the mesh water bottle holder would be good, as my bottle popped out a couple of times when I sat the bag down.
Final Verdict: A very well constructed backpack that is a pleasure to wear. Clean lines make keep it professional looking while inner pockets let the geek in you go wild.
Transcend Commuter Carry-On Spinner (Available in Fall 2014- will retail for $349. Note photo is of similar Baseline Carry-On Spinner that retails for $419, available now)
Today many people carry on very large bags because the fees for checked luggage have become so exorbitant. But many of those bags aren’t made to fit well on fleets of 737s with their mostly diminutive luggage space (newer models improve overhead storage, but they aren’t widely deployed yet). I think of this spinner bag as being in the “Goldie Locks” zone, as it is just right. It fits into the overhead space on all but the smallest planes. That said, I managed to pack a complete three-days of clothing in the bag, including a wrinkle-free sports coat. That’s an efficient use of space.
The Transcend Commuter achieves this feat with great design. First of all, the handle is on the outside, leaving a flat surface on the interior of the bag. No need to unbundle socks to fill in crevices. But speaking of filling in crevices, Briggs & Riley placed a slim zippered compartment between the handle uprights. That compartment proves just the right size to hold a wallet and money clip. Perfect for unloading just before the security scan.
The case includes a zippered inner compartment for separating clothing (perhaps for two different stops so you don’t have to unpack everything at the first stop. This is where I stored my sport coat.) On the lower compartment, mesh cinches holder everything in place, not just the stuff that happens to be under the usually thin straps of other bags. Roomy front pockets, including a padded one for quick tablet access give this bag a tech edge.
Pros: Clean design predominates to create a fashionable and very useful carry-on.
Cons: Minor point: Mesh cinch clasps don’t snap into place, but rather hook around straps. There may be a design reason for not using interlocking clips that snap into place, but when really forcing stuff down, it can take a bit more finesse to get these to work.
Final Verdict: Travelers who are bag connoisseurs are always in search of the perfect carry-on, constantly buying small bags in hope of finding the right mix of features. I’m not going to stop looking, but with the Briggs & Riley Commuter in my arsenal, I may not do so in earnest. The best basic carry-on I have ever used (so far).